• A daily summary of global reports on security issues.
Syrian rebels bombed Army headquarters in Damascus today in the second consecutive day of attacks on government troops and facilities in the city – underscoring the rebels’ ability to carry out assaults on centers of President Bashar al-Assad’s power, despite ongoing targeted strikes by the Syrian Army.
The attack comes just days after the Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced that it was going to move its top officials from Turkey to parts of rebel-held Syria. "The plan is that all the leadership of the FSA will be based in Syria soon, either in Idlib Province or Aleppo Province," a rebel source told Reuters over the weekend.
Though rebels now control parts of Syria, they still face constant air and ground attacks by government forces.
This morning, two large bomb blasts went off in Damascus, according to Information Minister Omran Zoabi. He said one may have gone off inside the military compound, something that could indicate inside help, reports the Guardian. The blasts were felt throughout the city – with buildings one kilometer (a half-mile) away shaking “violently” at the force – and were followed by a “fierce gun battle,” reports the BBC. Diplomats told the news agency this was the largest explosion they’ve heard in months.
The FSA took responsibility for the attack, and said dozens of people died as a result of the blasts. Syrian officials said, however, that there was only “material damage.” After the attack, Mr. Zoabi told the Associated Press:
I can confirm that all our comrades in the military command and defence ministry are fine.
Everything is normal. There was a terrorist act, perhaps near a significant location, yes, this is true, but they failed as usual to achieve their goals.
The Syrian government often refers to rebel fighters as terrorists. Meanwhile, exiled activist Ammar Abdulhamid interpreted the attack in a very different way:
Assad’s grip over Damascus has become tenuous at best. Rebels are able to conduct bombings and attacks even in the most secured areas aided by informants embedded within Assad’s own security establishment. The battle of Damascus is set to begin at earnest soon, in what promises to be a very bloody development.
The conflict in Syria has been a central theme this week at the United Nations, as world leaders try to find a path toward ending the violence. French President François Hollande told the General Assembly that outside military intervention was needed to protect rebel-held zones. President Assad “has no future among us,” President Hollande said.
President Obama noted in his address to the General Assembly that the future of Syria “must not belong to a dictator who massacres his people,” and the emir of Qatar called on all Arab nations to form a coalition to intervene in Syria.
“We have used all available means to get Syria out of the cycle of killing, but that was in vain,” the emir, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, said in an address to the U.N. General Assembly. “In view of this, I think it is better for the Arab countries themselves to interfere out of their national, humanitarian, political and military duties and do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed in Syria.”
Though the emir’s proposed military approach goes directly against the UN’s calls for resolving the conflict – which has killed between 20,000 and 30,000 people according to the UN and watchdog groups – through mediation and negotiations, it is an approach some say is time to explore 18 months after the increasingly deadly conflict began.
According to USA Today contributor and Truman National Security Project fellow Lionel Beehner, many in the international community seem to approach the conflict through the lens that Assad and his regime are floundering. As Assad gives all he can to hold on to power, the conflict rages on, and “Some Western policymakers have noted that this could be the desperate tactic of a regime in its final throes,” Mr. Beehner writes. But that “raises the question: Can Bashar Assad succeed?”
Some have assumed that Assad's fall is a foregone conclusion. But few have asked: What if he succeeds? Barring a major intervention, the balance of power will likely remain in Assad's favor. The Free Syrian Army cannot defend population centers with its current arms or finances. The U.S. has signaled it will not intervene, unless Assad uses chemical weapons, an unlikely scenario. The longer civil wars drag on, the more likely the government prevails.
After the success of the troop surge in the Iraq War, Americans seem to believe that winning hearts and minds is the sole path to victory in counterinsurgencies. But most autocratic regimes care little about winning over populations. They care about eradicating the enemy and remaining in power. Indeed, an Assad stalemate would be catastrophic…. It would embolden Assad, and push his regime even further into the hands of Iraq and Iran, which would further divide the Arab world along sectarian lines. Finally, it would provide a dangerous template for future regimes dealing with popular uprisings: Just hold out long enough, employ indiscriminate force and victory will be assured.
The use of such indiscriminate violence by the Assad regime suggests the civil war in Syria has entered a new stage. While this kind of counterinsurgency could widen the opposition and draw more opprobrium from abroad, this might not be enough to unseat Assad, short of a Libya-style intervention. Hence, Washington would be wise to have a plan in place should Assad win the war.